What Google’s Update For Indexing Passages Within Content Actually Means

Google has a primary goal for when someone searches for something and that is to provide them with the absolute best results they can in relation to the search query. It’s made strides in working to understand the context behind searches with the BERT update and is continually using AI to help improve the results it serves to users. Our job as SEOs is to provide Google with the content that best serves the user.

A recent update from Google said that they would soon be working to index individual passages on pages to help improve search results, and now following that, they have provided some more information on how this will work. 

Google has been open in sharing that they expect this to “improve” 7% of search queries, so a fairly hefty amount. How this impacts rankings however could be a different story because of how this update will actually improve the search results.

Google isn’t indexing passages separately instead of whole pages, but it is indexing passages at the same time as indexing a page and this allows them algorithm to present and rank a link to a passage rather than the entire page. Where this is most beneficial will be in long-form content because the current results format would link to a page, but the relevant content in relation to the search query could be 2000 words in and this means the user needs to actually find it. In the new format, Google creates a link in the search results which automatically takes the users to the correct passage. Featured snippets have obviously been a big stepping stone towards achieving this new format.

I’ve already seen this in the wild on some featured snippets although it has been coming and going as they test it. I can show you an example now of how this change actually works for a user. For this example (I did try more marketing-related searches but came back with nothing so instead, you can have ROCKETS which is arguably more exciting).

How Indexing Passages Affects The Searcher

This is my Google Search for ‘How do rockets propel in space’

google search results for how does a rocket propel in space

As expected we’ve been served a featured snippet answering the question. That may be enough for some users, but we also know that featured snippets can increase clicks through to a website substantially. It’s the click to the website that impacts the person searching. 

Typically in the current format, we would click and be greeted with the page at the top and then we’d have scroll down to find the relevant section. The page after the click would look like this:

live science rocket page load after click

We only just get to the title of the post before the fold and we can’t see any content at all (this is an extreme example because of the large advert but it gets the point across well here because the user now needs to scroll and find the content they were looking for. The link here in the results would be: https://www.livescience.com/34475-how-do-space-rockets-work-without-air.html.

Now onto the new format, when we click the link we can see the URL has changed to:


Google has added an anchor which is telling the browser the exact text that it should find on the page and scroll to so when a user clicks the link they are instead served this:

anchor link result from passage indexing

It’s taken the user to the exact place on the page which answers the question they were searching for. This also means that in the case of long-from content, they’re also in the correct general section of the page alongside related content.

Utilising This Change Within Long-form Content For Conversions

At Embryo Digital, our SEO and Content teams love our long-form content as we know it works well for our clients and allows us to capture different audiences and sections of the conversion funnel. Utilising this change allows you to incorporate even more related call-to-actions within the content. 

If your content is structured with headings and paragraphs with answers, getting a CTA directly below that means you can work on converting an audience searching for help – that’s a fairly unique opportunity based on individual question-based searches. 

An exciting development indeed and in my opinion, this will be better for users overall and helping them find the content they’re looking for more easily, especially as this rolls out into general results also.